Now that we're down to the final four, it's time to start taking a look at the masked men between the pipes. They're only players on the ice for a full 60 minutes and the ones who continually jump in front of flying rubber missiles but when things go wrong they receive all the blame. Being a goaltender is a tireless and thankless job, you're either the hero or the goat. So far in these playoffs we've seen our fair share of goats and hero's between the pipes.
Regular season success has absolutely no baring on the postseason. Just ask the Chicago Blackhawks who found themselves trailing the Detroit Red Wings 3 games to 1 in their Western Conference Semi Final. In the same sense goaltending in the regular season is a completely different ball game than goaltending in the playoffs. Just ask Marc-Andre Fleury who is growing roots on the bench in Pittsburgh.
The pressure on a goaltender in the playoffs is surreal. One wrong move, react half a second to late, lose the puck in a scramble, allowing a goal that zaps your teams momentum and you're getting boo'd off the ice. Mix all those worries with; rebound control, defencive errors and some insanely talented forwards and you have everything that's going on inside the mind of a goalie. There's so much to think about and roughly a 10th of a second to react.
No matter how many goals a team scores or how skilled that team may be, without a solid goalie that team will not succeed. Goaltending is key for a long playoff run and for any team who's mission is the Stanley Cup
It's been a roller coaster ride for goalies throughout these playoffs. Jonathan Quick went from being the goat in game one to statistically being the best goalie through 2 rounds. Then you have a goalie like Tuukka Rask who's really showing he belongs and has been making people forget Tim Thomas. But then Rask wipes-out giving the Rangers an easy goal and unfortunately costs his team the game, which turns Rask into the goat.
Goaltending can help solidify a teams chances at a Stanley Cup or be the flat tire on that road. Sometimes all a team needs is to change it's goalie. We're going to look at the goalies who are making a positive impact on their team and some other goalies who are holding them back these playoffs.
If the Detroit Red Wings built Howard a statue it wouldn't be enough to thank him for his efforts between the pipes this season. Coming into the postseason as a 7th seed and upsetting the number 2 seed and nearly upsetting the number one seed. Howard has outdueled both Jonas Hiller and Corey Crawford and as a result the Wings have been winning. Howard went 7-7-2 through the first two rounds and ranked 3rd with a GAA of 2.22 amongst goalies who had played 11 games.
Upon taking a 3-1 stranglehold on the Blackhawks, Howard and the Red Wings had won 5 of their last 6 games and the goaltender had them at the doorstep of a Conference Final birth. Unfortunately defeating the Blackhawks is a lot easier said then done and they came back from their 3-1 deficit to beat the Wings in 7 games. Despite the second round elimination, Jimmy Howard came up big for the Wings.
In all honesty has there been a better, more clutch goalie through the playoffs? When you look at the statistics the answer is no. Howard is 8-5-2 through the playoffs sporting a 1.50 GAA and a .948 Save Percentage. And oh by the way he also has 3 shutouts. This may only be Jonathan Quick's second season leading a team in the playoffs but he's quickly turning into a clutch playoff goalie.
The way the Western Conference Finals have shaped up, we'll see proven playoff goalie Jonathan Quick square off against Corey Crawford who has yet to prove himself in the playoffs. Which goalie will elevate their team to the Finals?
It's hard to watch the New York Rangers and not feel bad for Henrik Lundqvist. He is such a skilled goaltender but his team can't do anything to help him win. Makes one wonder if the Rangers are wasting the best years of the "kings" career. Despite his team virtually not showing up through the playoffs, Lundqvist has continually come up big time after time. When the Rangers needed him most in round 1 he stepped up posting back to back shutouts in games 6 and 7.
With his team down 3 games to the Boston Bruins, Lundqvist came out ready to play in game 4 and made 37 stops to help his team get their first win of the series. While Lundqvist stood tall the Bruins proved to be too much for the Rangers as the King was eliminated in game 5. With the lack of success in New York will Lundqvist stay there?
If not for Tomas Vokoun coming off the bench and stepping up after Fleury's meltdown, the Pittsburgh Penguins would probably be at home instead of the Eastern Finals. Vokoun has been shinning between the pipes and helped the Penguins focus on what they're good at; scoring goals.
No one knows if the Penguins will put Fleury back in again but with the way Vokoun has been playing, it would be tough to pull him. This may be Vokoun's Stanley Cup run from now on.
It's hard to criticize a goalie who's won 8 games but watching these playoffs I haven't been impressed by Tuukka Rask. The only reason he has these wins is because his team has bailed him out time after time. In game 7 of the first round against the Leafs, he allows 4 goals and his team ends up down 4-1. Since the Bruins came back no one showed to much concern but his play in the first round was alarming. He wasn't stellar and didn't look much better than James Reimer.
Rask has just 1 playoff run under his belt and it didn't go very well. He's fairly in-experienced, this is his year to show that he can carry the team and perform in the playoffs. Despite his 8 wins he's posting a rough 2.22 GAA and a .928 Save Percentage, not fantastic numbers. He's getting by because his team is scoring. When the Bruins had a chance to close out the series in New York, Tuukka didn't bother to show up. He'll need to stay on-top of his game in order for the Bruins to make it to the Finals, especially if he comes up against the Penguins. If you don't agree name 1 game Rask has "stolen" for the Bruins, these playoffs.
Craig Anderson is another goalie who is hard to criticize. He's been the backbone of the Senators team and dominated in the first round. But in the second round he just hasn't been good enough. It's tough for any goalie to stop the likes of Sidney Crosby, James Neal, Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla, but Anderson needed to find a way to stop the Penguins offence.
Anderson ranks last with 5 wins and a 3.01 GAA amongst all goalies who have gone 2 rounds. The Senators weren't able to get the goaltending they need to take down the Penguins.
Want to know the one reason the Chicago Blackhawks wont win the cup? Their goaltending. Splitting the season with Ray Emery really benefited Corey Crawford. Now that Crawford has been relied on to play on his own and steal some games for the Blackhawks, he hasn't been able to. With the kind of slump the Blackhawks are in they needed their goalie to steal a game or two for them and Crawford has failed to do that.
The Blackhawks want Crawford to be their goalie of the future but if he continues to bomb in the playoffs that future may be over in a hurry. It may be time for the Hawks to allow Crawford to learn during the playoffs, much like the Bruins did with Rask.
A goalie either becomes a hero or a goat in the playoffs, there's no room for average goaltending. The goaltenders who are turning heads and coming up big for their teams will be the ones who go far, while the others will fall into the shadows.